Information for Parents and Teachers
Access Cambridge Archaeology has three main programmes for young people: Higher Education Field Academies, the Cambridge Archaeology Project and Discovery Days. Please find more information about these programmes below. If you have any questions about students applying to study at Cambridge or applying to study archaeology please see our Prospective Students page.
For further details and queries, visit our Contact Page.
What is a Higher Education Field Academy?
The Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) is an initiative of Access Cambridge Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, which brings together school pupils, rural residents, groups such as local history societies and the University, in an archaeological and historical investigation into the development of villages and hamlets across the country. At the same time, the HEFA project is revealing important new information about the development of the countryside and its settlements in the past.
The field academies are similar to Time Team's Big Dig, broadcast in 2003, and the Long Melford Dig which featured in the BBC’s Great British Story in 2012, which both involved people digging test pits in their gardens, playgrounds and parks. In the case of HEFA, the aim is to involve young people, local people and the university in a programme of learning and skills development, based around research into the historic origins of the places in which members of so many historical and archaeological societies live today. Pupils participating in HEFA develop skills in teamwork, project management, data interpretation, report writing and verbal presentation, while local communities gain new information about their own past.
Higher Education Field Academies involve digging test pits within the gardens and other open spaces of occupied rural villages and hamlets to search for physical evidence from the past. This is an ideal activity for people with no previous experience to carry out within the HEFA framework as they are technically simple and can be completed within a day or two. Each 1m square pit is dug in 10cm layers, the spoil is sieved for finds and tested for chemical signifiers of historic occupation, and the details of each layer are recorded. The results of 20 or so test pits in an average-sized village can reveal startling new information about these settlements, within which archaeological research is otherwise rarely carried out.
Following the two day test-pit excavation, students are invited to the University of Cambridge to spend the day there to help them aspire to Higher Education. The day involves analysing the discoveries uncovered by the excavation in a series of discussive learning sessions and includes a tour with lunch at one of the Cambridge colleges. Afterwards, participants are asked to complete a written report about their excavation which is marked and assessed.
What are the aims of HEFA?
HEFA aims to inspire students in the pre-undergraduate state-funded sector to think positively about their future and to raise their ambitions regarding higher education to reflect their greatest potential, especially among students identified as Able, Gifted & Talented aiming for top Russell Group universities and groups currently under-represented in higher education institutions. In particular, HEFA has the following aims:
- Provide opportunities for local school pupils to work in collaboration with universities and local historical and archaeological societies to conduct primary field investigations and research in existing rural settlements of all types across the country.
- Provide learning opportunities and tutoring for prospective university applicants in order to enable them to develop and refine the study skills they will need in order to succeed at school, and university, and realise their potential in their lives generally.
- Generate a major national cutting-edge research programme of innovative practical and academic investigation to develop academic understanding of the major transformations of the British historic landscape, involving school pupils, local heritage societies and universities.
- Provide exciting opportunities for local historical and archaeological societies to get involved in a dynamic new academic research programme and to develop contacts with young people in their area.
- Over the first two days, HEFA involves pupils in practical activities involving original data-gathering, analysis, presentation and recording.
- The third day is spent in the University of Cambridge analysing the excavation results and learning about applications to top Russell Group universities, including a tour with lunch in one of the Cambridge colleges.
- Following the two-day course, HEFA provides online support as students complete a written report of their excavation which develops their writing and analytical skills, creative research and project preparation and presentation.
- In the longer term, HEFA maintains contact with schools involved in the programme, in order to monitor the progress of participants in the Field Academy, and to inform careers staff about events at the consortium universities which may be of interest to them and their pupils.
- Care is taken to ensure that local societies involved in HEFA are kept aware of the progress of work on their village, and of the wider project.
- The results of HEFA field investigations are published, individually in local journals as work on each site is completed, and as a book, atlas or series of monographs drawing together the results country-wide as the project progresses.
What are the outcomes of HEFA?
HEFA has been running since 2005 and feedback has shown it to have been consistently successful in providing thousands of GCSE pupils with a stimulating and challenging range of activities which provides a positive experience of Higher Education and transforms their abilities, their education and their future.
After completing HEFA, 70-80% of participants report feeling more positive about staying in education after year 11, studying for A-Levels and applying to university. Numbers intending to apply to university are raised by up to 60% after HEFA participation, while in the highest ability groups, numbers interested in applying to Oxbridge more than doubles.
Tracking shows that the impact of HEFA is an enduring one: two years after participating in HEFA, students and staff alike remember it as a positive and valuable experience, with 88% of tracked students, most from non-HE backgrounds, interested in applying to University.
To find out more about the immediate impact and effectiveness, and the long-term legacyk, of HEFA on participants please see here.
Want to find out more?
You can find out more about the aims, activities and watch a video of what’s involved in HEFA by visiting the Field Academies page. Click here for a copy of our Risk Assessment and for further details and queries, visit the Contact Page.
What is the Cambridge Archaeology Project?
The Cambridge Archaeology Project (CAP) is an exciting learning package of archaeological excavation and support for in-school teaching bringing GCSE History alive. Pupils carry out their own original two-day archaeological excavations, organised and supervised by the University of Cambridge, into a local historic site. During a term of study in school before and/or after their excavation, pupils learn about the history of the excavated site and others like it and use their own archaeological discoveries alongside other historical sources to reconstruct the historic development of the site. This programme can be undertaken by pupils as part of the Schools History Project (SHP) GCSE courses in the local history unit (History Around Us).
What does CAP offer schools and pupils?
• Two days of archaeological excavation organised by the University of Cambridge in a local historic settlement.
• On-site archaeological expertise provided by the University of Cambridge for the duration of the excavations.
• Written reports on finds prepared by the University of Cambridge.
• Support for in-school teaching including reference materials and advice on lesson structuring and content available if required as well as CPD days for teachers.
• An exciting way to study GCSE History which has a proven record of getting pupils really engaged.
Does CAP work?
Following pilot excavations in 2011, 83% of feedback respondents reported the dig as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. As well as evidently enjoying the experience, the excavation has improved pupils’ motivation and attitude towards their History GCSE more generally. In response to the statement, “I think I will remember more about the place we were in from doing the dig than I would have done if I had just looked round it with a questionnaire” 88% strongly agreed or agreed. The feedback respondents were also asked whether they were more pleased to be studying History GCSE now than before they took part in the digging and again 88% strongly agreed or agreed that they were.
Want to find out more?
Further details about CAP learning and assessment as well as a teacher's perspective on the project can be found on the the Cambridge Archaeology Project page.
What is a Discovery Day?
Led by Carenza Lewis, well-known from Channel 4'sTime Team and the BBC’s Story of England, Discovery Days are classroom-based extension learning courses which aim to be fun, inspiring and educational. The emphasis is on developing and enhancing students’ existing knowledge and intelligence in a series of hands-on, group-based challenges using new ideas and concepts from archaeology.
ACA offer term-time courses for school groups linked to subject specific concepts at Key Stages 3-4. Developed by academics at the University of Cambridge, Discovery Days will contribute to pupils' subsequent academic studies in a wide range of curriculum subjects including History, Geography, Chemistry, Biology & Physics. There are also half-term courses for individual applicants, ideal for students who would enjoy a day having fun and being intellectually stretched while working with others just as curious about the past.
The Discovery Days advertised are aimed primarily at years 7-9, but can also be pitched to older and younger students if a school group wish to make a booking. No previous knowledge or experience of archaeology is required or expected for Discovery Day participation, and pupils studying any combination of subjects are welcome.
Archaeology is a multi-disciplinary subject, so the ideas and approaches explored during Discovery Days will be able to contribute to ongoing studies and project work in many ways. It is surprising to many people how far the effects of Discovery Days reach. Further to these benefits, skills developed during Discovery Days will contribute to Key Skills qualifications, Gifted and Talented extension work and citizenship studies.
Discovery Days will enable you to meet and work with Cambridge staff and undergraduates, and create links between your school and the Cambridge University Admissions Office, Colleges and other subject departments of Cambridge University. This will contribute towards general aspiration-raising within schools and help with the applications and admissions process at Cambridge.
What do Discovery Days involve?
- Students will be with young people from several local schools, taking part in a series of structured interactive activities.
- Students will be given ideas and information to examine and analyse for, working in small groups and contributing to larger discussions. It will be informal and fun - and not at all intimidating!
- Students will learn to think laterally and analytically about new ideas.
- Students will be able to handle and investigate finds, and get an insight into how archaeologists really find out about the past.
- There will be presentations about life at university (given by current undergraduates), and on applying to university (given by Carenza).
- Students will find the day a thought-provoking experience which should give them a few new perspectives on life in the past, on creative ways of thinking today, and about their own futures!
There will be plenty of opportunities during breaks to ask questions - about anything to do with archaeology, university in general and Cambridge in particular - and to chat to Carenza and current undergraduates.
What do students say?
‘I have learned all about archaeology. I thought that you just dug up old artefacts but there is so much more to it!’
‘I have learnt all sorts of new skills used in archaeology and found the tasks really useful to estimate what people were like.’
‘I think my general history knowledge has improved a great deal, especially my skills of thinking in a more interested way.’
How Do I Apply?
For more information about the dates and courses available please see the Discovery Days page where you can also download an application form.